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Barrow Mansion

HISTORY

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The Barrow Mansion chronicles many generations of individuals who migrated to Jersey City in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to improve their circumstances, many of whom were successful.

The Barrow Mansion also chronicles the life of large families and several ethnic communities in Jersey City then.

The history of the Barrow Mansion’s birth and existence is intricately entwined with that of the Van Vorst Mansion, its lost twin. When they were built, and throughout the 1838–1868 period when the extended Barrow/Van Vorst family resided in them, these pairs served two principal purposes in conjunction with their adjacent garden.

Sarah S. Brower Van Vorst and Eliza Brower Barrow, who came from a New York family of Dutch ancestry, used the residences and their garden first as an extended family compound for the families of their respective husbands and children. In the same month that his sister-in-law Sarah Brower Van Vorst passed away in August 1835, well-respected and affluent New York medical doctor and surgeon William Barrow acquired the land for his half of the complex. Sarah Brower Van Vorst was William Barrow’s sister. She had been the direct connection between him and the vendor, Cornelius Van Vorst, but despite this, the Barrows and the Van Vorst’s persisted with what had presumably been planned for quite some time. Eliza Barrow maintained strong relationships with her nieces and nephews until the very end of her life. She included legacies in her will for all of her nieces and nephews, even those born to Cornelius Barrow’s second wife, Antoinette Roosevelt Van Vorst.

The expansion of the family farm that Cornelius Van Vorst envisioned for his property served the second purpose for these residences and their sizable garden: to depict the growth of Jersey City as a chic suburb of metropolitan New York. In 1835, at a time when the settlement of a dispute between the states of New Jersey and New York allowed for the development of the Jersey City shoreline and therefore of the city more generally at a quicker rate than previously, Cornelius split his properties into huge lots on a gridded street layout. Even though the park still maintains his family name, Cornelius set aside a city block of his property to create it. Parks are essential amenities for such upscale neighborhoods. The Greek Revival-style homes were as opulent and elegant as any in Manhattan at the time. These homes—possibly William Barrow’s creations—promoted the stature of the affluent landowner/developer and the learned but unassuming scientist; Dr. Barrow built a greenhouse on his property. The roses and boxwoods in this communal garden area were mentioned in a subsequent narrative. The historic Dutch family farmhouse, a holdover from the family’s previous existence in Harsimus Cove, stood in stark contrast to the opulent Van Vorst Mansion.

By 1838, the homes were finished and inhabited by the family. The Barrow residence was home to Eliza, William Barrow, and Eliza’s widowed sister, Ann Craig. After Eliza’s mother passed away, Maria, Eliza’s elder sister, who is also single, moved in. The family used African-American domestic help there throughout Barrow’s lifetime, much as they had done in Manhattan. In the early nineteenth century, this was far more common in Manhattan than in Jersey City. Late 19th and early 20th, the families living in the Van Vorst and Barrow homes often had two housekeepers. These were primarily Irish women in their twenties who had immigrated elsewhere. None of these employees stayed in each house for more than ten years, with Mary McTighe, who worked for the Edge family, being the lone exception.

William Barrow, Antoinette Roosevelt Van Vorst, and Cornelius Van Vorst passed away in 1846, 1849, and 1852, respectively. When Eliza Barrow passed away in 1865, her Van Vorst nieces and nephews received the Barrow Mansion, which they later sold. Elizabeth, the eldest child of Cornelius and Sarah, ran the Van Vorst mansion family for over. After her father’s passing, it took another 15 years until practically all of her younger siblings were married. Before the family sold the home in 1875, her youngest brother William stayed there for a short while.

Although they were both sold to other families generally in the same socioeconomic bracket as the Van Vorst and Barrow families, they stopped to be used as a family compound in 1868. By this time, the area surrounding the houses had seen tremendous development, and the once-open fields had been heavily developed. However, Jersey City was still being marketed at this time as a chic suburb.

Wealthy business people, the Palmiers bought the Barrow Mansion. Dr. Benjamin Edge, a well-known doctor, descended from early immigrants in the Jersey City region, led the Edge family, who made the purchase of the Van Vorst home. Both homes continued to house extended families with many generations, just as they had done while The Barrows and Van Vorst’s owned them. Jesse Paulmier worked in real estate development, much like Cornelius Van Vorst, although on a lesser scale. While constructing Hampton Court Terrace in 1879, he unexpectedly passed away to the east of the Barrow Mansion. His mother, Susan Paulmier, bequeathed the Barrow Mansion and the property on which Hampton Court was being built to Jesse and his wife, Cornelia Paulmier. Susan Paulmier had purchased the Barrow Mansion for Jesse and his family to reside in. After becoming a widow, Cornelia relocated with her three children from the Mansion to Hampton Court before making a second journey to Queens, New York. In 1890, she gave the Young Men’s Christian Association the Barrow Mansion. By that time, Jersey City’s industrial accomplishments had spurred expansion, drawn migrant and immigrant railroad employees, and started to alter the neighborhood surrounding the mansions’ character. To improve the lives of some of these homeless people, the YMCA built a large gymnasium and a bowling alley.

Although they were both sold to other families generally in the same socioeconomic bracket as the Van Vorst and Barrow families, they stopped to be used as a family compound in 1868. By this time, the area surrounding the houses had seen tremendous development, and the once-open fields had been heavily developed. However, Jersey City was still being marketed at this time as a chic suburb.

The erection of St. Matthew’s church, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church that speaks German, in 1897-8 and the church’s acquisition of the Barrow Mansion significantly altered the neighborhood around the houses. This expansion signaled further neighborhood demographic shift and irrevocably changed the two properties’ old garden setting. The Van Vorst Mansion was the last significant alteration to the previous Barrow and Van Vorst family estate. Still, the Edge family continued to live there until it was sold in 1925. The Barrow Mansion continues to serve as a significant reminder of the early growth of this area of Jersey City, its architects’ goals, and the city’s shifting demographics since its founding.

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